Teen Talk: What Does It Mean To Be A Jew?

3 months ago Leighest 0

Hi all! my name is Mitchel Zilbershteyn. I am a high school junior representing CTeen of Bucks County. I’m not a very religious person. I come from a family that is very split about religion. My mother’s side of my family is not observant at all and rarely even celebrates the holidays. My father’s side is far more observant of the religion. They go to the synagogue often, read the Torah, and keep kosher. It’s a weird mix. Growing up, my parents did not expose me to religion too much.

However, my grandma, my dad’s mom, was very observant, so everything I knew came from her. We went to her house for Shabbat every Friday night, where I watched her light the candles and pray. I was too young to understand what Shabbat was, so everytime that she would tell us to wash for Hamotzi, I would just absentmindedly follow along. As I grew older, I never asked her about Judaism, not because I didn’t care, but because I was ignorant–I didn’t understand what its relevance was and why it’s important. All I knew was that every Friday, we go to grandma’s house for dinner and to light some candles.

I never got the chance to actually ask her serious questions about religion, because by the time that I would have been interested in asking her, it was too late, for she had passed away when I was in eighth grade. It was only the following year, when I actually joined CTeen, that I started to think about what it actually meant to be Jewish.

I was introduced into CTeen by Claire and Donna Segal freshman year. I had no idea that CTeen existed until someone told my mom that there was this group for Jewish teens, and she began to look around. One day, she was at my brother’s soccer game, talking to her friend about this group, and trying to find out more about it. My mom told her friend, “I heard this woman named Donna runs it.” Just then, another woman standing next to her turns around and says “Hi, I’m Donna”. Just like that, I was whisked into the world of CTeen.


I vividly remember one of my first events being the Tri State Skiing Regional Event. This event was significant to me for two main reasons. Not only was it the first time that I have ever skied, but it was also the first time that I ever put on tefillin. A rabbi from one of the other chapters came up to me and asked, “Have you put on tefillin today?” I looked at him with a blank expression, and said “What’s a tefillin?” He explained to me what it was and how it worked. I then proceeded to put on the tefillin, in the middle of a ski lodge, with all of my peers watching. At first, I was scared of being judged, but then I remembered that I am surrounded by other people that do this everyday. I thought to myself, “Why should I be embarrassed? I need to embrace this, and recognize that this is a part of Judaism, and I must follow it.” Once I took the tefillin off, I remember feeling like I was seeing the world in an entirely new perspective. It was the real beginning of my connection to G-d, and since then, I have never been afraid to put on tefillin in public.

Since that ski trip over two years ago, I have gone to numerous CTeen events, including what is now my third international shabbaton. Everytime that I go to a CTeen event, I discover something new about my religion that I have never known about before. In the presence of CTeen leaders and rabbis, I have learned all about many aspects of Judaism, such as the significance of Shabbat, tefillin, and mezuzahs. In fact, thanks to Rabbi Chaim Shemtov, I even have a CTeen mezuzah hanging on the entrance to my bedroom. Without CTeen, I would never have the knowledge of Judaism that I now possess, and I will always be grateful for everything that I learned, as well as continue to enthusiastically embrace my religion in my years to come.

Occasionally, I like to think that I have made my grandma proud by the way I have embraced Judaism. I hope that somehow, she knows that since the time that she has passed away, I have learned so much about something that was so dear to her. I will always treasure the things that she has taught me, and I even wear the necklace she gave me when I was born in her memory. I hope that she knows that I have become a better Jew, and a proud one too.